Saturday, 11 August 2012
The End Of The Word
Aged 16, I found myself facing a long coach journey to Brussels for a school trip, inexplicably funded by the European Union. The day before, I went to the local newsagent in search of reading material, and came across a magazine I hadn't seen before. The cover picture of Elvis Costello wasn’t exactly your typical, teenage boy fare, but a quick flick through revealed enough to keep me interested and I thought I’d give it a shot. Over the next 48 hours, in between getting caught up in anti-war protests in Ghent and taking furtive swigs from an illicitly purchased bottle of toffee vodka, I read the whole thing from cover to cover. That was April 2003 and the magazine’s name was Word.
Even though I was far from the target demographic for this new magazine, something about it kept me coming back. It became my default purchase when faced with a long journey on public transport and, before long, I was buying it every month.
When I went to university on the other side of the country, my self-imposed budgetary constraints were so strict I regularly used to do my weekly shopping for under £10, yet I always managed to cobble together enough change for Word. Then, once I'd graduated, I was able to subscribe and had the luxury of the magazine hitting my doormat on a monthly basis.
Being a keen fan of a magazine was nothing new. At various points over the previous decade, I’d been a subscriber to The Beano, Shoot!, Smash Hits! and Q. However,'Word' (or, as it later became, The Word) was the only one with which I’ve ever felt such a strong connection. And it changed my outlook on the world.
I was initially drawn to the enthusiastic recommendations and the quality of the writing. Unlike most Word readers, I had no idea who David Hepworth and Mark Ellen were, and so had no preconceptions or fond memories. It didn't matter. Since 2003, The Word has turned me on to more great music, past (John Martyn) and present (Rilo Kiley, Burial), wonderful films (Oil City Confidential, Dig!), addictive television series (The Wire, The West Wing) and brilliant books (Flat Earth News, Le Freak) than I care to remember.
The Word’s lasting effect on me is the reason you’re reading this now. I’ve always been a huge fan of pop music with a slightly unhealthy obsession with chart placings and sales figures. However, The Word’s combination of fascinating, in-depth articles and short, snappy featurettes, slowly but surely turned me into an aspiring writer, with the magazine as my guide. It wasn’t something I’d seriously considered before (as my university degree will attest), but after penning my first tentative review for the student newspaper, I was addicted. Because The Word was so entertaining, informative and delightful it spurred me on.
Of course, the world of music journalism is hardly overflowing with steady jobs for those keen to learn but next to no experience. In fact, it’s hardly overflowing with steady jobs full stop. That’s why you’ll still find me, a full four years after first seeing my name in print, dedicating my spare time to filling various corners of the internet in a series of attempts to get my name known. My writing has taken me from websites with so few readers you could fit them all in a Vauxhall Corsa, to album reviews for a softcore pornography magazine (not something I’d recommend). I've even scaled the dizzy heights of the NME website. I never managed to get any of my numerous pitches commissioned in The Word though, despite vowing that I would. I came tantalisingly close, but sadly it wasn’t to be.
And now it’s gone. The forthcoming issue will be the magazine’s last and there’s a definite sense of loss. The media has been awash with tributes and elegies and, to me, it feels as though something that accompanied from youth to adulthood has disappeared.
It wasn’t just the magazine though. There was the easy bonhomie of the regular podcast and the constant, lively discourse on its website, which later spilled out into 'real world', with meet-ups and gatherings around the country.
There are so many people who will now feel something missing from the music and entertainment world (my story of kinship with the magazine is hardly unique). However, the words in The Word, from the smallest photo caption to sprawling, multi-issue investigations, made me want to do something different with my time. And for that I’m grateful.
For now though, we have to resign ourselves to the fact it’s the end of The Word as we know it.